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Together for Girls

Scope of the Problem – Sexual Violence against Girls

Sexual violence against girls is a global human rights injustice of vast proportions with severe health and social consequences. In 2002, the World Health Organization estimated that 150 million girls under the age of 18 had experienced sexual violence.1 Further, studies also indicate that 36% –62% of reported sexual assaults are committed against girls age 15 and younger.2 A survey conducted in Swaziland by UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and local partners in 2007 illustrated the scope of the problem, with approximately one in three girls a victim of sexual violence prior to the age of 18, and three-quarters of the perpetrators being men and boys (including boyfriends, husbands, and male relatives) from the neighborhoods the victims resided in.5

Hands holding a globeIn addition, sexual violence has overarching consequences both over the short and long term. Girls who are victims of sexual violence are three times more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy, and girls under 15 who are pregnant are five times more likely to die in childbirth than pregnant women ages 20 to 24.6 Sexual violence is often hidden and underreported, due to the panic, shame, and disbelief associated with the act. Only an estimated 10%–20% of child sexual abuse cases are reported to authorities.7

Sexual violence is also connected to issues of social and economic injustice. The threat of sexual violence can affect a survivor's of receiving an education. Girls who have experienced sexual violence can find themselves pulled from school by their families and caregivers, or they choose to leave because of their fear and depression. A lack of education hinders a girl’s prospects of earning a sustainable income, perpetuating and deepening the cycle of vulnerability. Ultimately, societies pay a deep price for these outcomes because educated women are vital to the health and prosperity of countries. One study has shown that a 1 percent increase in girls attending secondary school adds 0.3 percent in economic growth in developing countries. 3

Sexual violence can also increase the risk of infectious diseases and chronic disease later in life. Girls who are victims of sexual violence are at increased biological risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Even if a girl is not infected with HIV immediately after an act of sexual violence, research indicates that she becomes more likely to contract infectious and chronic diseases later.4 This is because sexual violence alters the life path of many girls, leading them down a road of depression, substance abuse, and high-risk behaviors.4

Ending sexual violence will allow girls worldwide to live safer and healthier lives and fulfill their right to freedom from violence, exploitation, and abuse.

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The Initiative

In 2007, intending to investigate the causes and scale of sexual violence, Swaziland launched a national survey. This survey, administered by UNICEF, CDC, and the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) partners, showed that one-third of girls in the country had experienced sexual violence prior to age 18.5 To address this, Swaziland created numerous programs, including a national education campaign raising awareness and promoting prevention, a safe court system for survivors, safe school initiatives, and increased capacity for police officials to enforce the law, establishing units to investigate sexual violence against minors.

Building on the experience in Swaziland, a group of international organizations from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors joined forces to form the first global partnership focused on ending sexual violence against girls. Together for Girls was launched at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative on September 25, 2009. It brings together 10 public and private sector organizations focused on one common goal: halting sexual violence against girls. Many organizations are participating, including the United States Department of State-President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Office of Global Women’s Health Issues, CDC, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Development Fund For Women, Becton, Dickinson, and Company (BD), CDC Foundation, Grupo ABC, and the Nduna Foundation.

This initiative focuses on three core activities:

  • Conducting national surveys and collecting data to document the magnitude and effect of sexual violence against girls to inform government leaders, communities, and donors.
  • Supporting a plan of action at country level with interventions tailored to address sexual violence. These range from national policy-level dialogue and legal reform to improved services and community-based approaches.
  • Launching communications and public awareness campaigns to draw attention to the problem and motivate changes in societal and gender norms and behaviors

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Current Activities

Current actions under the Together for Girls initiative include surveys, programs, and partnership activities.

Survey Implementation
The Nduna Foundation has provided funding to the CDC Foundation to enable CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention to secure staff and resources to expand the national survey methodology to three additional countries: Tanzania, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.

Map of Africa

Countries where surveys have been implemented or are in the planning stages

  • In Tanzania, UNICEF Tanzania, CDC, and local partners completed data collection in December 2009. Government partners and UNICEF Tanzania released the final report [PDF-1.7MB] in August 2011.
  • The UNICEF office in Kenya secured full funding for the survey from UNICEF headquarters, and data collection was completed in December 2010. Kenya measured violence against boys and girls, and assessed health consequences and access to and use of support services for victims of violence. Additionally, Kenya requested tailored questions to see whether violence occurred as a result of the highly contested national elections in 2008.
  • UNICEF Zimbabwe has secured funding for survey implementation from the Nduna Foundation. CDC, UNCIEF Zimbabwe, and other stakeholders plan to begin data collection in August 2011.

Programmatic Strategies
In Swaziland, interventions to prevent and respond to sexual violence against girls are ongoing, supported by initiative partners such as UNAIDS. Additionally, in Tanzania, government partners, UNICEF, PEPFAR and other stakeholders are coordinating the post-survey follow-up in order to ensure effective, collaborative approaches to preventing and responding to sexual violence against girls.

Partnership Activities
There is considerable momentum in developing a formal structure to deepen the partnership and guide future efforts. The initiative has also continued to actively engage with key stakeholders from a wide range of sectors, exploring avenues for collaboration and generating further interest in partnering to end sexual violence against girls.

Moving Forward

Future projects for Together for Girls continue to focus on survey implementation, programmatic strategies, and partnership activities.

Survey Implementation
Discussions are ongoing to conduct the survey in other countries, including countries in South-East Asia and in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Programmatic Strategies
Partners will collaborate with government, communities, and other stakeholders to develop and sustain coordinated, evidence-based plans and take action to address violence against girls. With surveys complete in Swaziland and Tanzania, and soon in Kenya, partners will focus attention on linking the survey results to further programmatic follow-up.

Additionally, UNICEF, Grupo ABC, and other partners will develop communications campaigns within countries and plan a global advocacy campaign.

Partnership Activities

The initiative continues to actively engage key stakeholders from a wide range of sectors, exploring avenues for collaboration and generating further interest in partnering to end sexual violence against girls.

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Additional Sources

  1. Andrews G et al. Child sexual abuse. In Ezzati M, Lopez AD, Rodgers A, Murray C, eds. Comparative Quantification of Health Risks: Global and Regional Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risk Factors. Vol. 1. World Health Organization. Geneva, 2004; United Nations, United Nations Study on Violence Against Children. Geneva, 2006
  2. Heise LL, Pitanguy J, Germain A. Violence against women: The hidden health burden. World Bank Discussion Papers, No. 255. Washington, D.C., 1994
  3. Herz B and Sperling G. What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2004
  4. Jewkes R, Sen P, Garcia-Moreno C. Sexual violence. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, Zwi AB, Lozano R, eds. World Report on Violence and Health. World Health Organization. Geneva, 2002
  5. Reza et al, Sexual violence and its health consequences for female children in Swaziland: a cluster survey study. Lancet, 2009
  6. United Nations Population Fund. Factsheet: Young People and Times of Change. New York, 2009. Accessed at:
  7. Violence Against Children: United Nations Secretary-General’s Study, 2006; Save the Children, 10 Essential Learning Points: Listen and Speak out against Sexual Abuse of Girls and Boys – Global Submission by the International Save the Children Alliance to the UN Study on Violence Against Children. Oslo, 2005

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